Keep an art journal

  • First of all, why even keep an art journal?

    Well the main reason is that there are ideas and feelings and drawings and inventions and who know what else just waiting inside you. That is why so many artists, writers, musicians, thinkers and tinkerers of all kinds use journals to explore and express their ideas.


    [Art journal from]

  • That is also why there are as many different kinds of art journals as there are kinds of people. And when you create you own, there will be no other art journal like it in the entire world.

    Below are some journals we came across, but if you want to see about a million more, just do a web search for “art journals.”


    [Art journal samples in order: Dietrich Guilherme, Frida Kahlo, Celestine Hart, Sarah@HubPages, Dan Eldon, Lynda Barry]

  • An art journal is especially important during difficult times (like, say, a pandemic) because it can give you a place to let out your feelings — your worry, your fear, your sadness, your frustration, and of course, your love, your hope, your wisdom, your gratitude.

    Not only do you get to release all those swirling emotions, but you get to turn them into art.


    [Artwork by Areeba Siddique]

  • STEP 1 OF 12

    For this project you will need:

    An art journal or sketchbook (if you want to make your own, head over here)

    Writing and drawing materials — pencils, pens, crayons, whatever you have

    (Optional) Collaging materials: scissors, glue or tape, and some magazines, newspapers or junk mail

  • STEP 2 OF 12

    The hardest part is getting started, so we recommend diving right in with…

    Art Journal Exercise #1: Make a mess.

    Why make a mess? Because for one thing it feels amazing — especially if you’re a bit of a perfectionist. Also, when you set yourself free, you often create something that your trying-to-be-perfect brain would have never come up with.

    Here are some ways to get messy…

  • STEP 3 OF 12

    Imagine your pen is a mouse scurrying around the page (or pages if you’re doing both the left and right side of your journal). Dart and dash and spin around like you’re being chased by a cat.

    Write your name (or other words) in different styles—big and bold, jagged and swirly, balloony and towering, backwards and upside down.

    Glue or tape pictures or words from a magazine or junk mail — don’t worry if you’re covering up your letters and lines —that’s part of making a mess!

    Trace your hand. Find an object or two and trace them too. It’s okay if your tracings overlap — in fact, we highly recommend it!

    Keep going until you’ve completely covered your page(s)

    [Journal pages by Alisa Burke]


  • STEP 4 OF 12

    Okay, now that you are properly warmed up, we have collected some ideas for you to try. Skip around or skip over as you wish, and of course, add your own ideas.

    To get in the habit of keeping an art journal, try to do at least one exercise every day — even if you only spend 5 minutes on it. It helps if you pick a daily art journaling time, like first thing in the morning or 4pm every afternoon.

    Ready for Art Journal Exercise #2?

    We’ll let cartoonist Jonathan Hill tell you all about it.



  • STEP 5 OF 12

    Jonathan had so many other ideas to share that he made this comic for you.

    In it you’ll find all kinds of creative exercises to try — and some you might want to try again and again.  Artists often experiment with different approaches to the same exercise. It’s all part of stretching your creative muscles.


  • STEP 6 OF 12

    Next up, a field trip to the Portland Art Museum!

    Art Journal Exercise #3: Snoop out some art you love and capture it in your journal




  • STEP 7 OF 12

    First, click here to magically travel over to the Portland Art Museum. (Your screen should look like the photo below)

    See the menu at the top? Great. Click on “Collections.” This will give you some options to choose from. Select the one that says “Search the Collection.”


  • STEP 8 OF 12

    Does your screen like something like the photos below? If not, click here and we’ll transport you there.

    Now, do you see the menu on the right that has the word “Artists” at the top? You can use that menu to wander around the museum, or you can use the search bar to search for whatever interests you.

    For example, try typing into the search bar “Bird” or “Shoe.”

    Keep exploring the museum until you find a piece of art you really love. You don’t have to know why you love it — art is mysterious that way. Sometimes it speaks straight to our hearts.


  • STEP 9 OF 12

    When you find that special piece of art, click on it so you can take a closer look and learn a little more about it. What do you appreciate about it? What does it make you feel?

    After you’ve spent some time getting to know this wonderful work of art, open up your art journal and see if you can capture it — in a drawing or words or however you wish.

    You can try to recreate the artwork if you want, or you can just use the style or shape or subject or color as inspiration for creating your own work of art.


  • STEP 10 OF 12

    How about just one more exercise before we send you on your merry way?

    Art Journal Exercise #4: Draw your favorite song

    Yes, it is possible to draw music. Just listen to your favorite song (or pick out a new favorite on Songify or app of your choice) and while you listen, notice the rhythm and flow of the notes. It’s a good idea to listen to the song once with your eyes closed so you can see the sounds in your mind.

    What colors came to mind? What lines or shapes or images did you see?

    Play the song again and, working with colors that capture the mood of your song, let your pens dance around the page — or imagine that your pen is an instrument playing along with the song. If you want to really get into the feeling, try moving your pen around your page with your eyes closed.


  • STEP 11 OF 12

    As for Art Journal Exercise #5 to Infinity, you can find endless ideas around your house, out on a walk, inside your head, or by searching around the internet.

    Here are a few of our favorite sources of inspiration:

    1. Hannah Chhar and Sarah Trastanetz’s Junk Journal project, which was a finalist in our 2023 OK Challenge competition

    2. Pinterest — just search “art journal”

    3. — one of many websites where you can find all kinds of creative prompts to keep your daily art journaling practice going

  • STEP 12 OF 12

    Want to share some of your journal pages in our gallery? We would love to see them!